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So you want to be a photojournalist, eh?
Here's basic background from one who is there and is doing that.

By Steve Shapiro

Having made many inroads, only by looking back do I realize I established myself in a unique and meritorious position in the journalist community. I am a freelance photojournalist afiliated with Associated Press.

Journalism is a simple writing form. With the aid of good photography, a picture that fits those principles of good journalism makes a photographer invaluabe.

Cut Wires and the Five W's

The fundamentals of journalism begin with the understanding of its history. Modern jouranlism style began in the Civil War, when journalists were considered spys by both sides. Reports describing troop movements, munitions transport and procurement, the development of men and materiale tipped either side. Mostly, this was unintentional.

But, the readers had to know. The standing order was to cut all telegraph lines after sending military information. So, the style developed to get the basic Who, Where, What,Why, When and How -- called the five W's -- out in the first sentence, then elaborate until the story details unfolded or the wires were cut. Thus, it was born: the inverted pyramid style. So-called because the widest part of the story started the article and the smallest details were unveiled until the point ended at the bottom of the top paragraph.

The five W's, supported by photos, capture the readers' interest today.

Get into the Beat

So, how does all of this help the single individual? When you have a camera and technical know how and no one to tell you what to shoot, how do you know where to go, who to point the lens at and when how to satisfy a photo editor? You want it, you get motivated, but be you in an office or all by yourself, you have to know the beat.

Every newshound with a pencil or a camera has a beat. This is a series of calls, or doors to beat on, people to talk to to get in on what's happening.

It began for me by the time I was assistant news director for a rock and roll raidio station, and we were sold to small talk syndicate. I had a list of contacts in the community who knew me and relied upon me to get their story out there when it needed to be told.

I had won the confidence of the police to the extent that their arson team gave me specific evedence information knowing I would be on the look-out for details without revealing what they told me. The National Democratic Party and Republicans relied on me to tell their story in a manner that would reach our community members; because I knew my home I held onto the beat.

I still call the Coast Guard when my neighbor wants to know about the fishing waters, and the local meat packing company still lets me know when there's a glut of poultry so I can shop knowledgeably.

When we have an earthquake I take the number of the Seizemology Institute out of my beat sheet and it puts my wife at ease. I know all the local politicians, and their staff who tell me what's going on in the community.

If you begin calling the same people every week and become known for serious intent, deliver reliable quality and use of the five W's and How, you too will develop a beat and your worth will become embelished by your photography; for that becomes the way to build a career, not by a technical expertise first. Get onto your own beat. Every newshound has their own beat.

Steve Shapiro is a freelance photojournalist affiliated with the Associated Press.

© Steve Shapiro and Resnick Associates